The 50,000 Word Novel That Doesn’t Contain the Letter “E”

The 50,000 Word Novel That Doesn’t Contain
the Letter “E” Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 novel Gadsby
is over 50,000 words long. There is nothing remarkable about that. What makes this novel
noteworthy is that it doesn’t contain a single letter “e” anywhere other than
the cover. Given that ‘e’ is the most commonly used
letter in English, you might think this would have been impossible, but Wright stated this
wasn’t nearly as limiting as one might think. For instance, about half of the top 500 most
commonly used words in English were still available to him to use. That’s not to say
it was easy. Among the more difficult aspects of writing such a work, Wright had to avoid
all “-ed” endings as well as the word “the”. Beyond that, he had to come up
with clever, non-awkward ways to refer to certain things, such as a ‘Turkey’, which
he called a “Thanksgiving National Bird”, and “wedding cake”, which was changed
to “an astonishing loaf of culinary art”. He wrote the book in just under six months
starting in 1936 and finishing in February of 1937. In order to prevent himself from
accidentally using the letter ‘e’, he disabled the key on his typewriter by tying
it down. As to his motivation for writing Gadsby, he
first thought to try writing a book without the letter ‘e’ after learning that the
letter ‘e’ supposedly occurs in books and other writings on average about five times
more often than any other letter in English. He further became excited about the idea after
discussing the matter with various people and having everyone tell him that it couldn’t
be done unless one threw out grammar and made a habit of creating awkward sentences.
After completing the novel, he wrote: “As I wrote along, in long-hand at first,
a whole army of little E’s gathered around my desk, all eagerly expecting to be called
upon. But gradually as they saw me writing on and on, without even noticing them, they
grew uneasy; and, with excited whisperings amongst themselves, began hopping up and riding
on my pen, looking down constantly for a chance to drop off into some word; for all the world
like seabirds perched, watching for a passing fish! But when they saw that I had covered
138 pages of typewriter size paper, they slid onto the floor, walking sadly away, arm in
arm; but shouting back: “You certainly must have a hodge-podge of a yarn there without
*us*! Why, man! We are in every story ever written *hundreds of thousands of times! This
is the first time we ever were shut out!” He was unable to find a publishing house willing
to publish Gadsby, so after two years, he sought out a vanity publisher to self-publish
it, settling on Wetzel Publishing Co. in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for him, two things
happened to stop the book from becoming widely published or even reviewed at all. First,
the fact that there was a fire at Wetzel’s warehouse, which resulted in not only a firefighter
losing his life in the blaze, but also the vast majority of the copies of Gadsby being
destroyed. The second thing that happened was Wright himself died just two months after
publishing the book at the age of 67. With no one left to promote it and few copies
in existence, it faded into obscurity for a time, but has gained in popularity over
the years. Today Gadsby is considered something of a classic, albeit in the “oddity” category,
rather than for its literative qualities. Nevertheless, thanks to its notoriety and
scarcity, a first edition copy of Gadsby, even one in poor condition, tends to cost
around $4,000-$5,000. Bonus Facts:
• Gadsby wasn’t the only classic not to be appreciated in its time. Moby Dick only
sold 3000 copies over a 40 year span (during the author, Herman Melville’s, lifetime),
making Melville only $556.37. It was also largely overlooked critically.
• Works like Gadsby are called lipograms. A lipogram is basically just a form of writing
where the author purposefully excludes a letter or symbol from their text. ‘Lipogram’
comes from the Greek ‘leipográmmatos’, more or less meaning “leaving a letter out”.
Another type of lipogram is a pangrammatic lipogram. This is where you write something
(usually something very short, like a single sentence) that includes every letter of the
alphabet, except one. • Little is known of Ernest Wright beyond
some details surrounding Gadsby and that he wrote three other books, The Wonderful Fairies
of the Sun in 1896, The Fairies That Run the World and How They Do It in 1903, and Thoughts
and Reveries of an American Bluejacket in 1918. He also wrote a comedic poem that became
mildly popular, “When Father Carves the Duck”. As to what he did with the rest of
his life, there are conflicting accounts. He was either English or American, and may
or may not have been in the navy or otherwise a sailor. It is known that he attended M.I.T.’s
School of Mechanic Arts, which had a two year program for high school students. Instead
of taking normal high school classes, this program focused on educating teens with practical
skills like metallurgy, carpentry, and the like. It isn’t known whether he graduated
though, because they listed him as a “special student” in his second year and no direct
record of him graduating exists. • Georges Perec published a 250 page book,
La Disparition, in French which also doesn’t contain the letter ‘e’. This book was
later translated into English. The English translation conformed to the same restriction
as the French version, lacking any instance of the letter ‘e’.

100 Replies to “The 50,000 Word Novel That Doesn’t Contain the Letter “E”

  1. At 4:11 I was thinking of a time me and my friend were playing a game and he tried to open a door and it wouldn't respond so he said "MY "E" ISN'T WORKING IM STUCK HELP ME PLEASE!" In cs 1.6 2006

  2. The title literally tells me EVERY thing about this video. What else is this guy going to tell me? Why did I watch the entire video?

  3. this is amazing, didn't know it was practical to construct such thing without that important fifth symbol of our writing organization.

    holy crap i finally did it

  4. If we are not taking into consideration of E alone then the question (in which every word spelled without E) can be asked without the use of E See it here: 1. Try to word a paragraph without using E.

  5. If you think of my words as unimportant just you wait!
    As only if you finish you will find what I am doing…
    And that which you shall find is that my words so far contain not this symbol known simply as E
    … man that was hard, I have new found respect for that guy

  6. I love your videos, but I have to skip the first few seconds because if I hear you say your own name one more time I am going to cry

  7. I remember I didn't ave g-j (between tat )so I am like OOOOO SIT so it was very ard and to tis day I

    have the h boi's

  8. I kept seeing the thumbnail for this video and assumed it would be about Georges Perec's novel La Disaparition (a.k.a A Void in English). I had no idea there was another novel written without the letter E!

  9. I've heard that that the there is also another attempt at disusing a particular letter in a work of novel length but a least one occurrence of the letter did however occur. I do not know if it is true. I do not know if it actually a work by one the same authors Simon spoke of. All I am confident of is that read in a book or magazine in printed paper formatand it was more than thirty (30) years ago.
    I am making an Edit because I claim there is a distinct possibility that not only the cover contained the E but the title andor indexcontents pages did.
    I will confirm as soon as I buy a copy. Patreon???!?? Maybe.

  10. no



  11. Now that you know all about the novel that doesn't contain the letter "E" check out this video and find out the answer to the question- Where Does the Word Doohickey Come From?:

  12. So, archive dot org has, supposedly, the complete text of the book. For fun, I did a search for E just to check. A couple Es came up where text recognition read an E where there originally was a C or something, but also found 3 THEs and an OFFICER. Now if this is text from a later reprint, I could potentially see an out of date word for officer being replaced… but what about those THEs? Where did they come from? How did they get in there? Did someone not understand the point of this book? Why does this bother me so??

  13. Another bonus fact…Ayn Rand hated the idea of the book, deeming it as frivolous. She vented about it in The Fountainhead.

  14. I'm not surprised that Moby Dick neither sold well nor got good reviews: it is terrible. A reasonable short story, padded to epic length with tedious descriptions of the minutiae of sailing and whaling. I'm sure it's only recognised as a 'classic' because schools got the idea to force children to read it as a punishment.

  15. Glad you mentioned in the end French writer and member of the Oulipo Georges Perec and his acclaimed novel "La Disparition" (translated to English by his friend Harry Matthews), published in 1969. A few years later, Perec wrote another lipogramme in the form of a sort of sequel to the previous work: "Les Revenentes" in which no other vowel than e was used. Funnily enough, when la Disparition was published, some reviewers failed to notice that the disappeared one in that (quite funny) detective story was the letter "E", so cleverly it was written.

  16. I read the first chapter online years ago, and it seemed interesting, but I don;t really like reading novels off computer screens. Wikipedia notes that Wright included the word "officers" and three uses for the word "the," so he failed.

  17. Can i play scrabble with no i 's in it please?
    Its the most F-ing annoying tile in the game….. ok, its a useful tile as an individual, but the problem is, one i attracts more i 's, its, as if they got some kind of unseen magnetic attraction or some f-ing thing, whatever, but its absolutely TRUE!
    Or even better, make a rule where your allowed to throw i 's back and replace them with new tiles at any time you chose.

  18. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  19. If E. Vincent lived today he realised how meaningful his work is, because some greedy corporations gonna trademark the letter 'e'. I remember King trademark the words 'Candy™' and 'Saga™' and then 'Super™' (and I boycott their games). What next?? Trademarking is becoming a joke.

    Try write a paragraph without an 'e' or pay up $.005 per use

  20. Some corporations: I have patented the letter 'e'. From now onwards, you cannot use the letter 'e', vervally or in writing, unless you pay $.005 per use.

    E. Vincent: challe™nge™ acce™pte™d

  21. “We don’t need no stinking E. Let’s see, restaurant review No. Eatery evaluation No. Food Box! Go or no go by Homer No. Earl NO! Bill Simpson.”

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